I recently saw a quote by one of my favorite Presbyterians and one of the world's most eloquent writers, Frederick Buechner. This sums up exactly why I love fiction. Buechner in his collection of short essays, Whistling in the Dark, said "From the simplest lyric to the most complex novel and densest drama, literature is asking us to pay attention. Pay attention to the frog. Pay attention to the west wind. Pay attention to the boy on the raft, the lady in the tower, the old man on the train. In sum, pay attention to the world and all that dwells therein and thereby learn at last to pay attention to yourself and all that dwells therein."
I believe the best books teach us something about ourselves and our world. Through novels I've learned about a Jewish girl in Budapest in 1943, a black girl in rural Mississippi in 2008, a small town Australian boy in 1959, a Chinese girl with bound feet .... These novels and many more helped shine a light on another person's situation, another's thoughts and feelings and showed me how to become more human. These books weren't always pretty and didn't always have happy endings, but they all illuminated another way of living and taught me something about humanity.
This theory of mine was recently PROVEN through a scientific study that found that "after reading literary fiction, as opposed to popular fiction or serious nonfiction, people performed better on test measuring empathy, social perception and emotional intelligence — skills that come in especially handy when you are trying to read someone’s body language or gauge what they might be thinking."
This means that people that read literary fiction are more empathetic and more caring individuals.
Re-read the Buechner quote above, "...literature asks us to pay attention."